Defense Mechanism

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Defense mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings or make good things feel better for the individual. In short, defense mechanisms are a mental process and strategy used unconsciously to keep the conscious mind safe from thoughts that cause stress and anxiety.

Defense mechanism strategies brought into play through by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one’s self-schema or other schemas. These processes that manipulate, deny, or distort reality may include the following: repression, or the burying of a painful feeling or thought from one’s awareness even though it may resurface in a symbolic form; identification, incorporating an object or thought into oneself; and rationalization, the justification of one’s behavior and motivations by substituting “good” acceptable reasons for the actual motivations. In psychoanalytic theory, repression is considered as the basis for other defense mechanisms.

First proposed by Sigmund Freud, this theory has evolved over time and contends that behaviors, like defense mechanisms, are not under a person’s conscious control. In fact, most people do them without realizing the strategy they’re using.

Defense mechanisms are a normal, natural part of psychological development. Identifying which type you, your loved ones, even your co-workers use can help you in future conversations and encounters.

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